Sustainable Agriculture Around Lake Parishan

“Less water, more yields!” exclaims Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam, a wetlands conservation project consultant and instructor for the sustainable agriculture initiative around Lake Parishan near the main South Western Iranian city of Shiraz.  Most families living in the villages surrounding the wetland have been involved in farming for generations. Today, as family and plot sizes expand, rainfall decreases and water overuse has become ubiquitous, farming has become much more challenging – and more of a threat to the environment.  

Thanks to the plan-based outreach activities of the Conservation of Iranian Wetlands project conducted by the Departments of Environment and Agriculture, the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, villagers around Lake Parishan and the project’s two other pilot sites are now acutely aware that preserving the wetland means more than saving the environment. In the long term, it means saving their economic livelihood.

“We have adopted new water management techniques to help us use water more efficiently, and consequently, preserve the wetland. These, combined with simple agricultural methods such as composting and not tilling the soil have boosted our crop yields,” he continues. 

The sustainable agriculture project around Lake Parishan began in 2010, bringing together 25 farmers from Ghaleh Narengi village around the wetland. In its second year, 38 volunteers now participate in this promising initiative. A field farm school was set up as a demonstration site for nine different agricultural and water management techniques. Participating farmers work on the pilot site and replicate these sustainable methods in their own farms. 

The field farm school includes both theoretical classes and practical demonstrations for drip, pressure and canal irrigation, covering soil with plastic sheeting to reduce evaporation, no soil tillage, non-chemical composting and alternative crop selection. These techniques offer an important alternative to traditional flood irrigation and the use of chemical fertilizer, which both use vast amounts of water. Locally made compost requires nearly two times less irrigation than chemical fertilizers used around the wetland. 

Using flood irrigation, uncovered crops and tilled soil, farms need to be irrigated for entire days at a time. With the sustainable techniques introduced by the project, crops need only 5 hours of water. More specifically, previous to the introduction of these sustainable methods, 10,400m3 of water were necessary to quench 1 hectare of land. Now, sustainably farmed plots need only 6,000m3 of water, saving 4,400m3 of the region’s most precious resource. 

These techniques are not only useful for the environment, they have also increased yields remarkably. The average yield for 1 hectare around the wetland of land is 70 tonnes. Using sustainable agriculture techniques, average yields are 148 tonnes per hectare for common crops such as tomatoes or watermelons. 

“While it is of immense benefit to the wetland, ultimately, the project speaks to farmers in the language of money. It makes business sense for them to work more sustainably: their risk margin is small, so are their plots. They need the field farm school to demonstrate that these techniques will actually work for them before adopting them on their own farms. This pilot has more and more participants for a simple reason: sound environmental management means better business opportunities now and in the future,” explains Mr. Ali Reza Cheraqui, Coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Project and Expert in Kazeroon’s Department of Agriculture. 

“The project draws on a participatory model, inviting farmers to learn about sustainable techniques, then replicate them on their own plots. At first, neither farmers nor the Ministry of Agriculture was acquainted with this kind of approach, so it took some work to implement, but now, the results speak for themselves and exceed our expectations by far,” he adds. 

In an effort to expand the adoption of sustainable farming techniques further, and to involve women more in community development, the project has also formed a group of 11 women facilitators from villages around the wetland. These women learn about new techniques and extend their use in their own communities. The group has also constituted a micro-credit fund with seed money from the wetlands conservation project (20 million IRR) and with their own savings to purchase the equipment necessary, such as egg incubators, to develop alternative livelihoods and to produce and sell natural compost used on sustainable farms. 

The sustainable farming initiative around Lake Parishan has been so successful that it has already been replicated around the Lake Urumieh Basin, and leveraged funding from government. 5 billion Rials (IRR) have been earmarked from national budgets to reproduce the project elsewhere in Fars province and beyond. “In the future, continued governmental support will be vital to adopting sustainable techniques around Iran. Farming communities are resilient, but they need strong support to diminish the risks involved in changing their methods,” concludes Mr. Sharifi Mogaddam, “I am very confident about what lies ahead.”

By: Tamara Kummer

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